JOHANNESBURG - Even at their worst TP Mazembe have somehow found themselves among the best on the continent, albeit in the secondary Caf Confederation Cup and not the Caf Champions League - where they have won five times.
This shows the class of Mazembe, who are a shadow of the glorious side they once were, but still have enough quality to conquer the continent.
Mazembe have shed the aura of invincibility that saw them capture their fifth Champions League crown in 2015 to further cement their place among the greats in the continent after they became the first African team to reach the final of the Fifa Club World Cup in 2010.
The DR Congo giants have slowly been shedding players who were part of that all-conquering team and are assembling another generation that will follow in their footsteps. They swiftly bounced back from their early elimination in the Champions League this year and last year to reach back-to-back finals in the Confederation Cup.
They will offer SuperSport United a stern challenge in the final, starting on Sunday in the first leg in Lubumbashi. Mazembe reached this stage without competitive football in their country since July due to the impasse they had with the football authorities which saw them spend two extra weeks in Morocco to prepare for Matsatsantsa a Pitori. Mazembe returned home last week.
“We are satisfied with the performance of our players against the three Moroccan teams,” Mazembe assistant coach, David Mwakasu told the club’s official website. “For us as coaches, the game against Renaissance Sportive de Berkane was our best performance despite the defeat.
"We got opportunities, twelve in total, but we did not put them away and the opponents scored. We learned our lesson. By facing teams of a good level, this camp in Morocco will help us for sure.”
United know Mazembe’s strength and weaknesses. The Tshwane side pushed Mazembe in the group stage, especially in the 2-2 draw in Lubumbashi that saw them win over the hosts’ fans who gave SuperSport a standing ovation as they left the field before giving their own players a piece of their mind. A confident SuperSport was disappointed to draw the return leg 0-0.
Mazembe lack a key element in their arsenal that saw them torment South African oppositions before a ball had even been kicked - the element of fear. Orlando Pirates removed that element by dismantling Mazembe in Orlando in the 2013 Champions League before doing enough in Lubumbashi to move to the next round. Mamelodi Sundowns took it up a notch by winning the Champions League last year and then beating Mazembe earlier this year in the Caf Super Cup. Sundowns’ success made other teams in the continent take note of South African clubs.
“We are more respected in the continent since Sundowns won the Champions League,” SuperSport’s defender Morgan Gould said. “They see that Sundowns have won the Champions League which means that there must be something good happening in South Africa, they can’t be playing with stooges and dummies and then win the Champions League. They are aware of how we play.”